Let me invite you to join me in prayer:
“Heavenly Father, I am thankful that you have chosen me to proclaim your Word in truth and purity today. Help me, Lord, to glorify your Kingdom as you use my testimony to impress upon all of us our responsibility as leaders in our communities.
Give us a teachable heart, Lord, so that we are able to meet the demands of our positions in life. Keep us from being self-centered and covetous. Forgive us, Lord, where we have failed and let us become more faithful servants and stewards of Your Kingdom.
Let us now come into your presence with a contrite and open heart, knowing that you love each one of us just the way we are. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and a peace the world cannot give us. We pray this, in the glorious and precious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Thank you for inviting me to share with you how God has changed my life. You probably have already noticed that my accent is different than yours!! That’s because I am originally from Switzerland.
I have traveled an interesting, and sometimes scary course, to get here today. My father was a high ranking German telecommunications officer, and my mother Swiss. I was born during the Russian occupation of East Germany in Neustadt in Sachsen, a small town 15 km from Dresden, just before the terrible bombing at the end of World War II.
When the first wave of Russian soldiers came through our city, after it was razed to the ground and reduced to rubble by day and night mortar shelling by the English and Americans, houses were looted and burned down. People were beaten to death, robbed and raped –not just once– but over and over again as they tried to escape to freedom in the West.
Hundreds of thousands were sent to concentration camps where they were gassed to death or lined up to be shot. The lucky few…who didn’t freeze or starve to death as they were hiding…were forced to scramble for throwaway food, a crust of bread or stealing potato peelings to still their hunger.
My mother, a very brave and courageous woman, escaped the Russian soldiers by fleeing in the darkness of night, with me and my 2 year older stepbrother, and nothing more than clothing on her back, first into West Germany, and then back to Switzerland where she originally was from.
Once settled, my mother remarried a widower, a very quiet and hardworking Forest Ranger from the Swiss mountains with four children of his own. Together they had one more child bringing our blended family to seven siblings. During my first 6 years I grew up in regimented Swiss Health Clinics ran by Catholic nuns high up in the mountains, to get healed of the starvation sicknesses which had befallen my tender body and bone structure as a result of the infant malnutrition during the war.
I attended Trade Schools in Zürich and Geneva earning a degree in Industrial engineering. After graduation I traveled for 2 years all over the world on a personal study mission before finally settling in the United States in 1969.
I spent the next 25 years with two international divisions of Fortune 500 corporations in various management positions, first on assignments in Europe (Luxembourg) then Central America (Guatemala), South America and finally the Far East before returning to the United States where I started my own export commodity trading business in 1986.
Back in Switzerland I was raised in a home where my parents insisted that all seven kids from this blended family had to attend church regularly. I vividly recall every Sunday. We walked two miles to church, like ducks, all in a row by size, with Father and Mother leading. Dressed in black clothing it looked more like a funeral procession than a joyful event. And that was it! At home we never prayed or discussed spiritual matters around the table and each one of us was basically on his own with his religious beliefs.
Although I wasn’t exposed to a “personal-relationship-with-the-Lord” type faith, I definitively was given an awareness of that there was a God, and prayed at the age of six in a nondenominational soccer youth camp to invite Jesus Christ in my heart. By the time I was in High School, I had intellectually blown off Christianity. I didn’t have time anymore for church.
I no longer felt the need to take time out for God or to include Him in my daily life. In my mind I justified that Jesus was probably a pretty good teacher, but there were just too many rules and regulations that I didn’t want to follow anymore. I became very skeptical of church, especially the hypocrites in it. It didn’t take very long and I began avoiding going to church. I was convinced the concept of God taught was just a tool they used to control the behaviors of others. Looking out for me became my “motto.”
I began to immerse myself deeper and deeper into sports, notably soccer and running, where I could excel and gain the recognition and attention of my peers I so badly craved. By the time I was eleven I was selected to play in the junior National team. By age 14 I played in the National league. Then I had the opportunity to meet and play with Édson Arantes do Nasimento, better known by his nickname “Pele” and he became my idol. I wanted to be like him.
Soccer dominated my time from that point on. I told myself I’m going to turn pro, and I’m going to give myself three years to see if I am good enough. Two years later I began to play professional soccer, first as a speedy right wing, then sweeper and in later years as goalie for various European and U.S. teams. There was absolutely nothing more important to me except playing soccer. It became total “obsession.”
As I grew older I started my adult life out on the same “fast track” in finding my business position in society. Strong willed and very competitive I tried to accomplish everything relaying on my own power and understanding. I was self-centered, arrogant and full of pride, complimented with a legalistic attitude and critical spirit. I made all decisions, important or not, and seldom consulted my peers at work or my family at home. It basically was “my way…or the Highway.”
I was focused on my career, determined to be the best, to make it to the top in the corporate world, where I would surely find the time to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor. If the company asked for a transfer overseas, I was ready to move the family immediately. When the job required traveling, I was the first on the airplane when the cleaning crew was still on board. For the most part of 25 years I spent up to 85 percent of my time traveling internationally, crisscrossing 143 countries around the world. I was given preferential treatment at almost every major Hotel around the world. There wasn’t a United Red Carpet, KLM or Admiral’s Club in which I didn’t set up office or slept in it.
I was convinced that the success of my business efforts would bring everything else in my life together, such as happiness, contentment, and most importantly, freedom to do whatever was pleasing to me at any given time. I quickly achieved the American dream: a loving and beautiful wife, two healthy sons, a nice home in an affluent neighborhood, two cars, a good paying job, summer and winter vacations, and so on.
Despite all the success, recognition and material security, there was just never enough. I would achieve one goal after another, and yet, deep down, I wasn’t satisfied. I’d reach a goal, but when I got there, it wasn’t what I thought it would be. So the answers for me were “keeping pushing on to the next level” and keep hoping that the satisfaction was waiting behind the next goal. Long work hours, a consistently overbooked travel schedule, an over committed social calendar and infrequent communication slowly eroded my home and marriage life.
I was so busy running the company that I did not devote much time to my wife and sons. I did not see their loneliness, needs, hurts or pain, nor heard their cries as I should have. Parent/Teacher meetings were a foreign concept to me, spending time playing with the kids a luxury, and conversations with my wife took primarily place during unpacking and re-packing of suitcases between Saturday afternoon arrivals and Sunday morning’s departures. Perhaps some of you can identify with that!
My marriage commitments had taken a back seat to my business and travel responsibilities. What originally began as a partnership of love and respect deteriorated to a simple living arrangement between the two of us, heading towards divorce. Years of alienation and neglect drove the kids away to the point where I lost their love and respect. My priorities were work, work, and more work, then came golf and fishing, and finally, if there was any time left, my family.
At the age of 47, I had been married for 21 years, and the proud father of two grown up boys. I made a decent living and had a challenging position as the number two man in the company. Then in 1986, the company I had run so successful for 10 years, was acquired by an U.S. industrial giant, and they didn’t need an international guy like me anymore. I was crushed, devastated, confused and… jobless.
Although the trappings of success kept paying the bills, my life had overnight become a nightmare rather than the American dream. I began to search for peace and realize that something was missing. My inside was hurting and empty. The joy of what I was doing started to become a burden, compounded by nagging guilt. However, in my workaholic attitude as a provider, I redoubled my efforts by starting my own commodity trading company and soon found myself back in the same vicious cycle.
Yet, often as I traveled all over the world in pursuit of business deals and opportunities, a question frequently thudded through my mind: “What is the ultimate value of what I am doing?” On a flight back from the Far East, after another grueling week of business meetings, I cried out to the Lord that one more sale, one more toy, one more weekend on the golf course, one more fishing tournament, did not bring the happiness and contentment I was looking for all these years. I cried out and pleaded with God to reveal Himself to me, and if He indeed was who He claimed to be, to rescue me and show me the clear calling of life.
Then in October of 1992 some friends of ours invited us to a Sunday evening Bible study meeting with six other couples. I just had come home from an extended overseas trip and didn’t want to go, but my wife insisted, and I finally went along reluctantly and totally against my will. I didn’t even bother bringing a Bible along. Every now and then, in a feeble attempt trying to please my wife, I squeezed church into a Sunday morning if I was home.
There I heard for the very first time the need to be “reborn.” At first it didn’t make any sense. Surely, at the ripe age of 47 I could not be born again. So the next time we played golf I asked my friend what he meant by being “reborn?” He pulled his pocket Bible out and showed me John 3:3 NIV in which Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” In other words, come alive spiritually.
All these years I thought I was a pretty good Christian but I had never heard this before! My friend went on to explain what it meant in practical terms. He told me that every one of us is separated from a perfect and holy God because of our imperfection and sinfulness. I was amazed to realize that the only way to have eternal life is through Jesus Christ…that He died for our sins, past, present and future. And that it was a free gift… I couldn’t earn it.
For the first time in my life I began to understand that it is not through our good deeds or good behaviors that one receives eternal life, because we can never live up to God’s standard. We will always fall short. After understanding that God loved me so much that He sent His only Son to die for my sins, it was time for me to ask the Lord into my heart and let Him direct my life.
I began to comprehend that a personal relationship with the Lord had nothing to do with being “religious”, or going to church “twice a week”, or being a “good” person, or based upon “anything” I had achieved, earned or perhaps even deserved, but by personally inviting Jesus Christ in to my heart and to turn control of my life over to Him.
Prior to that moment, I believed in God. I believed in Jesus. I read occasionally the Bible. But I didn’t do anything about it. The best way to explain it is to say that it was an intellectual belief. I realized, at that moment, I didn’t have Christ in my heart; I had Him in my head. He was second to work. That day in October of 1992 it became a “heartfelt” belief. That day I began “trusting” God with my life.
My priorities have changed a lot since that day in 1992. My relationship with my wife is different and on the mend. I love my sons today unconditionally and they both have come back home to me. It has been an incredible transformation because I used to look at everything through my eyes and how I thought things should be.
These days I try to look at everything through godly eyes by asking, “How does all of this fit into God’s plan?” I never thought like that before I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I used to have a profanity and temper problem. When I first came to the United States I learned all the bad slang words first, and not knowing their real meaning, often repeated them. I also felt constantly that I had to prove and defend myself. All of it is gone today.
I still find myself getting aggravated, frustrated, impatient and sometimes not acting the way I should. That’s where I stumble a lot in my Christian walk. But I’m working at it. At times it is hard and I fall back into old habits. However, I believe when you have your priorities right, God first, family second and vocation third; everything else is much easier in life. Every morning when I get up I give my whole day over to the Lord, all of my thoughts and actions, and I ask Him to guide me through the day. I ask Him to help me treat every person in a loving and honorable way and to give me patience in how to deal with the daily uncertantities of life. I no longer feel alone. He is always by my side.
After years of searching in all the wrong places, I finally discovered that inner peace, love, compassion and concern for other people, and life’s happiness did not come from material possessions or how hard I was working, but through a personal relationship with God.
God did not intend for this world to be the best of all possible places. But it is a place where we can prepare for the best of all possible places. We need to recognize that we are separated from a perfect God because of our sin problems, and by placing our faith in Jesus Christ, we are promised eternal life. It’s the only way to experience the “peace that passes all understanding” I was searching for and the Bible talks about.
Every day we have to make many decisions, but the most important decision we’ll ever make is “Who we believe Jesus is!” We either accept Him or reject Him. Jesus Himself said in Luke 11:23 NIV “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.“ There is no in between.
In this secular world it is easy to put God on the back burner, isn’t it? We are busy… we are tired… there are so many distractions… our family… our jobs… our friends… bills… hobbies… golf… entertainment… just to name a few. Yet, we are called to forsake all and follow Christ. We are to put Christ first in everything we do.
How do we do that? Are we to neglect our families… quit our jobs… abandon our friends… throw our bills in the trash… and avoid hobbies and entertainment in order to follow Christ? Does God want us to isolate ourselves from the routine activities of life so that we can think only of Him every waking moment? Quite the contrary!
God calls us to a new life in Christ to make us better husbands and fathers, better wives and mothers, better brothers and sisters. He wants to fashion us into true and faithful servants. He wants to make us responsible stewards of our resources and create in us a much deeper understanding of love, fulfillment and beauty. He wants to show us what real living is all about.
True Christianity is not just a philosophy, a club or a once-a-week meeting at the church. Believing in Jesus Christ entails radical transformation of a person’s life from top to bottom. When we believe the Gospel and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, not only do our thoughts and attitudes, along with our actions and habits, begin to change, but our entire perspective on the meaning and purpose of life is thoroughly recast.
Most of all, our relationship with God becomes real, dynamic, active, alive and growing! That doesn’t mean we won’t have problems, trails and crises. What it means is that we will approach them in the light of the Word of God, in the hope of salvation, with the faith of Christ and confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. It would even be fair to say that it is precisely during problems, trials and crises that the Christian light burns brightest, that the Spirit of Christ in his people finds its greatest expression.
Far from being a call to isolation and seclusion, Jesus’ command “that we forsake all and follow Him”, is a call to live in our routine daily circumstances in a radically new way. It is a call to be completely responsive to God, to be constantly looking to God for guidance and direction, praying without ceasing, and studying God’s Word. It is a call to obedience, an invitation as Peter puts it, to participate in the divine nature. “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2Peter 1:4 NIV
With God at the center of our lives, “distractions” become “opportunities” to let the light of Christ shine. The routines, along with the challenges of life, become occasions for exercising faith in the “One who has proven His love for us by sending His Son to the cross for our salvation.” 1 John 4:9 NIV
Our heavenly Father has offered us, through His Son, an intimate, personal relationship with Himself. But we must accept it. If our relationship with God is to be real, we must participate in it. If we put God on the back burner, our Christian lives cannot be other than weak, insipid and aimless.
In 1 Peter 2:9 NIV it reads: “God has called us out of this world’s darkness and into His marvelous light.” But we must open our eyes so that we can see what He has done! We must believe it. We must take hold of it. And when we do, our lives can never be the same!
Jesus is not just a heroic martyr whose personal sacrifice inspires us to do well. He is the Son of God. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:25 NIV
When I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, I agreed to obey Him in everything He commanded. Jesus didn’t hide the fact that the road would be “narrow and difficult” and that I would have to make “sacrifices” for my Lord and Master. In my walk with Christ, I have found that giving my allegiance to Him was not just a one-time sacrifice, but a lifetime commitment!
I agreed from the beginning that my standard, my guide for shaping my faith and conduct, would be the Word of God, the Bible. I have often, of course, fallen short of Christ’s will for me. But my goal, like that of all my brothers and sisters who have placed their faith in the Savior, is to live by every word of God. For me, the pursuit of that goal has included a continual study of the Bible, in the conviction that God directs His people through His Word.
As a Jesus follower, I believe that the Bible reveals to us God’s standard by which our traditions, our experiences, our thoughts and our actions are judged. I believe when I am confronted with the will of God in His Word, I have an obligation to my Lord and Savior to submit to Him.
By God’s grace, He has led me, as His worker in the neglected fields of China, to submit to Him in ways I never expected or imagined. Through the plain teaching of Scriptures, Christ has surprised me and taught me things I had not known before in all the years of my existence, and I have had to accept the “Word of Truth.”
Despite significant shortcomings in my earlier life, I have chosen over the years to follow the lead of Jesus Christ through the Scriptures, and change certain thinking of mine. Our merciful and patient God has led me to see that we must teach the commandments of Christ, not the traditions of men regarding those commandments. We must not bind burdens on people that Jesus Christ does not require.
In making these changes, I answered to our Lord and Savior, and I praise and glorify Him for His great salvation in bringing me to spiritual repentance from a history of misinterpretation of the Bible, misunderstanding of His Word and misguided zeal in serving Him.
As a child of God, we give our allegiance to Jesus Christ, not to a particular doctrine or tradition. If our understanding of a doctrine is called into question, we must go back to the Word of God to study it afresh. That is what I have had to do, and that is what everyone else will have to do. It is not easy to repent. It is not easy to change. But the Word of God is a sharp two-edged sword, and sometimes it hurts as it penetrates us.
As Jesus followers, we must let the truth direct and change our lives. Our duty in life is to serve Jesus Christ, not ourselves. We are to glorify God in everything we do. We seek to please Him, not humans. The Christian life has many trials. We must persevere through them all, always looking to Jesus for guidance and faith.
Christianity is a costly faith. It demands all that we have. If you have pushed God out of your life, isn’t it time to do something about it?
If you have never gotten serious with God, if you have never surrendered your life to Christ, and you want to do it today, I encourage you to do so now. Don’t put it off, tomorrow may be too late. In just a moment I am going to lead you in a prayer like the one I said a few years ago when I recommitted my life to Christ. This is the most serious, the most sacred decision you will ever make.
Maybe for some of you this is the first time, in a long time, that you can be honest with yourselves. Or maybe you think about what you find inside yourself which doesn’t make you happy, or maybe something is not right in your relationship at home with your wife and children, or maybe you aren’t sure about your salvation. If so, let me invite you to bow your heads and if this is something you desire, please pray silently with me while I pray aloud:
“Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for me and my sins. I confess those things in my live that aren’t pleasing to you, and I ask you to forgive me and cleanse me. Right now, in the best way I know how, I open my heart and trust you as my Lord and Savior. Take over control of my live and change me from the inside out. Make me the type of person you want me to be. Thank you for coming into my live by faith. Amen.”
If you have prayed this, YOU ARE SAVED! You are now completely forgiven, a new creation, innocent in the eyes of God. Welcome to the family of God. I encourage you to share this very important decision with your Pastor, or with the friend who brought you here today.
Let me close with this final note. Whereas man usually looks upon the outside, God always looks upon your heart. If you have sincerely turned your life over to Jesus, believing that God raised Him from the dead, and you’re not ashamed of Him but confess Him openly, then and only then, do you have eternal salvation. No crime committed, no matter how heinous, no sin or immoral act that you may have done is beyond God’s forgiveness, and in accepting that forgiveness, nothing can keep you from eternal life with the Holy Father.
On the other hand, if you deny that Jesus is the Son of God, and you are ashamed to confess Him before others as your Savior, then no righteous act or noble lifestyle, church attendance, baptism, christening, or even generous acts of giving, will gain you entrance into eternal life with the Father, God Almighty.
If you are not sure where you stand, or where you would spend eternity if you died today, then I urge you, in your own words, in your own way, straight from your heart, ask God to forgive all of your sins and become Lord of your life.
Thank you for allowing me to share with you how God has changed my heart.
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